STEM professionals in schools


The ESA Central Council and the heads of Economics departments at various Australian universities have had a number of discussions about declining enrolments in Economics and the lack of diversity in enrolments. There are low enrolments of women, but there are also low enrolments of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is largely due to the decline in the number of high schools that offer Economics as a subject. High schools in disadvantaged areas are particularly unlikely to offer Economics. Over the long term, this will impact the ability of economists to understand the full range of challenges that Australians from all backgrounds face. (See A Matter of Diversity | Speeches | RBA.)

In response, we’re asking ESA members to consider getting involved in CSIRO’s “STEM Professionals in Schools” program. This program pairs a professional from a discipline that uses STEM skills (such as economics) with a STEM teacher. ESA members who are interested would be paired with a math teacher in year 7, 8 or 9 at a high school in a disadvantaged area. The partnership can take many forms, but it might involve the volunteer speaking to the class, or providing some real-life examples of how math is used in our work, and why our work is fascinating.

We’re focusing on year 7, 8, and 9 and because that is the age at which many people disconnect from mathematics. The goal would be to encourage students to stick with mathematics beyond year 10 (so that they can enrol in a Commerce degree if they choose), and to raise awareness of Economics as a possible field of study. And evidence shows that there are significant benefits in terms of job quality and job satisfaction to students continuing to study mathematics. For those of us who are passionate about seeing more women in economics, it is often women who disconnect from mathematics; and women are much more likely to choose economics as a field if they hear from women economists, or if they realise that the field is about solving real-world human problems (see Why Study (or Not Study) Economics? A Survey of High School Students | Bulletin – June 2020 | RBA).

If you missed the Information Night you can catch up here.

Download the slides from the information night

Get Involved

Once you enrol in the program you are paired with a teacher who has expressed interest in the program. The teacher and you then discuss your background and the teacher’s challenges, and figure out ways that you might be involved. Some possibilities include:

  • One way is to visit the classroom a couple of times, and explain how you use maths in your work. (This includes using statistics of any sort.) 
  • Coming up with examples that could be used in class, either with you present or in your absence. These would be examples from your work of specific concepts from the curriculum. (The Curriculum in year 7,8,9 includes a lot of basic statistics, such means and variances, and also a lot of material on solving linear equations.) As an example, I might draw on my work at the Productivity Commission to mention statistical work that we’ve done to estimate the distribution of wages of young people since the GFC, or the total cost of mental illness to the Australian economy, or equations we wrote down to explain how wages and rents might be affected by the Working-from-Home revolution. 
  • Explaining to the teacher how a specific concept might come up in your work. 
  • Supporting a teacher who is less confident or is teaching out of their subject area to understand a mathematical concept 
  • If you are feeling less confident, and would like something more straightforward to begin with, you could ask to be paired with a Bebras teacher. (Bebras is an additional math activity that builds basic maths skills.) The advantage of this is that the materials are pre-prepared. See STEM Professionals in Schools and Bebras Partnership - CSIRO

Levels of involvement vary, but the average amount of time given by a professional is about 10 hours a year.

The next step is to complete an application for the STEM Professionals in Schools program at STEM Professionals in Schools - CSIRO. If you’re willing to be partnered with a teacher at a disadvantaged school, please indicate that on your application (under “first preference”).

The requirements for the program are (1) a bachelor degree in a STEM-related field (such as economics), or relevant experience;  and (2) a Working with Children Check.

Feel free to reach out to me  at fontenay@unimelb.edu.au or the CSIRO team at STEMprofessionalsinSchools@csiro.au if you have any questions. In particular, I’d be very happy to chat about your work and which aspects might be relevant to a middle-school maths class.

Thanks for considering this opportunity! It will be a really rewarding experience. 

Catherine de Fontenay
President, ESA Central Council

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